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Fr-Schmitt
The following is the homily given at the funeral Mass of Father Thomas F. Schmitt, professor and dean of seminarians at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary. The Liturgy of Christian Burial was held Aug. 22 at Christ the King Parish in Ludlow. Father Schmitt was 58.

By Father William B. Palardy
Rector and president of Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary

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It was late October or early November of last year, only a couple of weeks after the initial diagnosis of esophageal cancer, that Fr. Tom became aware of how very many people were praying for him: daily prayers, novenas, people fasting for him, people here in this great parish, folks connected with Pope St. John Seminary, his large number of family members and friends, priests of the Springfield diocese and priest alumni from John XXIII Seminary, women religious such as the sisters at the Visitation Monastery in Tyringham, and then the countless others whom all these people in turn had asked to pray for him. Well, as he realized just how many folks were pounding heaven on his behalf, in his usual witty way, Fr. Tom said to me one day, “Geez, I better pull through this thing, or it’s going to be a crisis of faith for a lot of people!” He meant it humorously, but in fact for many of us, it became prophetic, because when April 15th rolled around, after all the prayers, and after the rounds of chemo, radiation, and cancer surgery, when we learned that the cancer had spread to his liver, was stage 4, and that he wouldn’t have long to live, I know for me, and I suspect for many of you here today, it was indeed a crisis of faith, or at least a source of deep disappointment, disillusionment, and anger.

Yes, I was angry all right, angry with God, angry with all those saints whose intercession I and so many others had been praying for day in and day out, angry even at our patron Pope John XXIII about to be canonized a saint to whom so many of us had been praying novenas for Fr. Tom’s healing.

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, pictured in undated photo

I went into our chapel at the seminary that evening full of anger, letting God and some of the saints know how I felt – in no uncertain terms, but then I happened to look up at the large crucifix we have in the sanctuary. I looked at the image of Jesus’ lifeless body hanging limply on the cross, and I got stopped in my tracks. I gazed at the crucifix and said, “Lord Jesus, I just can’t be angry with you. Look what you suffered out of your infinite love and your burning desire to forgive us, to forgive my friend Fr. Tom, to forgive me, my sins, and to offer us, to offer my friend Fr. Tom, to offer me the hope of life eternal, none of which any of us could have ever obtained on our own.”

In 1991 when Bishop Joseph Maguire ordained Fr. Tom to the priesthood, as part of the ordination rite the bishop placed in Fr. Tom’s hands a chalice and paten for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and spoke these words to him, “Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” We speak of the Eucharist as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – a holy sacrifice in the sense that the Eucharist makes present for us all the One Sacrifice of Christ on the cross, enabling all of us to join the sacrifices of our own lives with that sacrifice of Christ, and in receiving Holy Communion to draw from Christ’s sacrifice that we celebrate here the grace, the spiritual power, to endure the sacrifices of our own daily lives with renewed strength and Christ-like love and charity.
I have never known a priest more devoted to the Holy Eucharist than Fr. Tom Schmitt. He always made a point each day to spend time in the chapel praying before the Blessed Sacrament.

Pope Francis elevates Eucharist during Mass of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

And whenever we’d travel on vacation, he’d always have his Mass kit with him, and the first thing we’d do when we’d arrive at our destination was to find a supermarket or liquor store where we could buy some wine for the celebration of Mass each day. Early on he’d even pack a huge chasuble in his suitcase. In the course of time I was finally able to convince him that when it was just the two of us celebrating Mass in a hotel room or cabin, it was okay to forgo the chasuble and just wear an alb and stole. Fr. Tom reluctantly went along with it, but deep down was still probably questioning my orthodoxy! I believe that in his 23 plus years as a priest, other than when he was hospitalized or recuperating from surgery, he never missed a day in celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Even in these last weeks, he would drag himself down to the chapel in the seminary to concelebrate Mass each day. When we had Mass for him in his room the last week of his life, it was only the morning before he died when he did not concelebrate Mass. As a good teacher, even in his last days Fr. Tom continued to teach all of us how essential the Holy Eucharist is in the daily life of the priest.

“Model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” An image that will remain with me for the rest of my life was when we had a prayer service for Fr. Tom in his room 3 days before he died. He held a crucifix in his hands and clutched it close to his heart throughout the prayer service, and that same crucifix was lying on his chest during his final hours and at the moment of his death.

Crucifix is seen silhouetted against stained-glass window in chapel at New York correctional facility

Fr. Tom selected the readings from Scripture for this funeral Mass, and while the first 2 readings are customary texts for a funeral, he specifically wanted a Gospel different from the ones in the funeral ritual book, Jesus’ words in St. John’s Gospel on love, on charity – “Love one another as I love you,” Jesus charges all of us His disciples: “No one has greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” The charity, the sacrificial love of Christ that Fr. Tom celebrated in each Eucharist, he strove to emulate and exemplify in his own life. I remember on one occasion speaking to him about the polarization in the Church between so-called liberals and conservatives, and some of the other divisions that can occur among people who claim allegiance to Jesus Christ. His response was always, “Where is the charity, the love that Christ means for us to have and show?” So many of the divisions among Catholics he attributed to a lack of charity. While Fr. Tom always upheld the teaching of the Church in all matters, his approach to those who might disagree with Church teaching was patiently and clearly to try to give the reasons behind Church teaching, never insulting or demeaning the other person, but always treating the person with respect, kindness, and charity. And that is what he tried to impart to his students in the seminary these past 16 years.
Sacrificial, Christ-like love was in evidence throughout his life. Who will ever forget this past March when from his hospitable bed he made it to Canaan, CT to celebrate the Mass and preach the homily at his dad’s funeral? Who will ever forget the numerous times when as dean of students he accompanied seminarians who were ill to the emergency room, or comforted them when they were in crisis or sorrow, or encouraged them to persevere in their vocation, sharing his own struggles when he had been a seminarian himself? I am sure many folks in this parish can point to examples from their own experience where Fr. Tom was there for them when they were in desperate need for the healing, comforting, love of Christ, and they found it through his priestly ministry. Fr. Tom would also show his care for us when he’d remember some significant detail from our life that we’d share with him, and often when we’d least expect it – he’d bring up something we had said and with his incredible sense of timing turn it into something hilarious. I had shared with him once a somewhat callous comment made to me by someone who knew that both my parents had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Well, later on several occasions when I had a momentary lapse and couldn’t remember someone’s name, Fr Tom would repeat that earlier comment: “It doesn’t look good for you!” So often, his great wit, as quick and as outrageous as it often was, was a way that he expressed his attentiveness and love for us.

PASSAGE FROM BOOK OF REVELATION

The reading from the Book of Revelation that we just heard Fr. Tom’s nephew Carl proclaim speaks of a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more death or mourning, where we will be in God’s presence forever, and where we will share completely in the victory of Christ over sin and death. And yes, Fr. Tom looked forward to this new heaven and new earth, but did he ever love and enjoy the present heaven and earth that we all share. He could point out many of the constellations in the night sky, and when it came to the natural beauty of earth that we’d encounter on hikes and bike rides, he was so enamored and full of wonder at God’s creative artistry. He could name just about every tree, plant, or bird that we ever came across, and appreciate all the details and distinctions among their many varieties. An exceptionally bright and intelligent man, Fr. Tom excelled not only in his understanding and presentation of theology, but he also had a lot of expertise in history, science, botany, mechanics, technology, and several languages. Yet, never was he haughty or condescending; he just liked to share his knowledge and his wonder about the world around him, so that some of his own joy might spill over onto all of us.

I still can’t begin to understand why God has taken such an outstanding priest, such a gifted teacher, such a wise and vivacious colleague, such a dear friend from us. But what I do know is that Fr. Tom did indeed model his life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross, that he exemplified what a priest is called to be, that he freely gave and graciously received the love that is rooted in Jesus Christ. As he was a witness throughout his priestly life, and especially during his illness, to the reality of Christ’s cross, so we pray that he is now sharing in the joy of Christ’s resurrection, that he is now finding the new heaven and new earth infinitely more glorious than the beautiful heaven and earth he enjoyed here with us, and we pray that Jesus Christ, whose love Fr. Tom shared so lavishly with us here, now embraces him with complete peace and joy. Today in the Church calendar we celebrate the feast of Mary as Queen of Heaven. May the Blessed Mother to whom Fr. Tom was so devoted on earth welcome him now to his place at the heavenly banquet.

Actor Robin Williams found dead

By Julie Beaulieu

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In the recent death of Robin Williams, I reflected on the people I’ve known in my life who have suffered from mental illness, including my mother and a close friend. All forms of mental illness are serious diseases that have drastic effects on not only an individual, but his or her families and loved ones.

As mentioned in a previous blog of mine, I was raised as an only child, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and a father who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in the Vietnam War. I have an older half-sister from my father’s first marriage who grew up in a different household. I’m also the only grandchild of Polish immigrants.

Although my mother sought treatment in her thirties for depression, she was misdiagnosed. At age 40, she suffered a psychotic break and was first hospitalized. I was in high school. Frightened and ashamed, I did my best to hide her illness from my friends.
While in college, I received a call from my mother’s job stating that she had been sent to the emergency room. What I recall most from that psychiatric hospitalization was my grandfather saying, “I hope I die before I see her go into the hospital again.” His wish came true. My grandfather passed away from heart disease in the fall of 1992. The point is for my readers to realize the extreme pain and devastation these illnesses bring not only to an individual, but to the entire family.

My grandparents generation, that of World War II, viewed mental illness as a shameful embarrassment, that was to be kept a secrete at all costs. Both of my grandparents constantly agonized over the haunting thoughts of what they had done wrong as parents to have such an ill child. Still, prior to my grandmother falling ill with vascular dementia in 2007, she would walk half a mile to the hospital to visit her daughter into her mid-eighties saying, “She is my flesh and blood.”

In 2007, my mother had several hospitalizations which consumed six months of her life out of that year. I knew that something needed to be done to keep her on her medication while she was at home, so I sought a Community Roger’s Order and Medical Guardianship of her. My mother is now under a court order to be medicated against her will and has not been hospitalized since the fall of 2009.

BOTTLE OF MEDICINE SITS ON PHARMACY COUNTER

However, my experience with suicide goes back to my childhood, knowing that my godmother’s father had suffered a horrific death before I was born. This man was, like my grandfather, a veteran of the Polish army from World War II, who had relocated to American in the early 1950’s. I can only speculate that he suffered from PTSD and depression. He was a husband and father of two adult children when one day, in the late 1960’s, the poured gasoline all over his bedroom, tied himself to the bed, and lit the room on fire.

Men suffer from depression as much as women do, but are less likely to get help and more likely to succeed at a suicide attempt. (The Mask of Male Depression http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=major_depression&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=79265)

My father, a Vietnam veteran, also suffers from PTDS related anxiety and depression, which he self-medicated for years with alcohol and drugs. In 2006, he completed an in-patient program at the Veteran’s Hospital in Leeds and now takes prescription medication.

VISITORS REFLECTED IN VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL IN WASHINGTON

An incident that still remains in my mind was the tragic loss of a male friend, P, who committed suicide by hanging in 2000. I remember P as, “the life of the party,” and as someone who always clowned around. Yet, he had a sensitive side.

Something dark had lived inside of him. At the age of 10, P’s mother lost her battle with cancer. She died in bed while sleeping next to her son. P carried this pain and sorrow with him through out his life, and often self-medicated with alcohol and drugs.

As time went on, P began to use heavier drugs and had been in and out of rehab. He developed serious financial problems. He had relationship problems. After a brief failed marriage, another serious relationship had ended. He was asked to leave a house he shared with roommates and had to stay with a relative.

Shortly before his death, he abandoned an in-house rehab program and began using again. I kept asking his other male friends what was wrong. They felt that P’s problems, at the time, were private. Soon after, he was found dead. People closest to him felt that he wouldn’t commit suicide because he had a young son. Regrets ran rampant among his circle of friends, including myself. I wrote this poem about P, trying to imagine what he may have been feeling.

I am not strong enough to face anymore tomorrows.
I am not strong enough to look at myself in the mirror.
I am not strong enough to stop.
I am not strong enough to continue failing.
I am not strong enough to be a father, a lover, a worker, a friend.
I am not strong enough to be who I once was.
I am not strong enough to be who all of you expect me to be.
I am not strong enough to even realize who I am anymore.
I am not strong enough to get better, to get well.
I was strong enough to make one last choice.
I was not strong enough to realize how much I was loved.
Be strong, all of you.
Be strong enough to forgive me.
Be strong enough to let me go.
Be strong for each other, and remember me always.

Help is always available to those who need it. Perhaps P had an underlying depressive illness that may not have been diagnosed during detoxification. Drugs and alcohol far too often mask mental illnesses.

Over a year ago, I did a story on local activist and volunteer for the Western Massachusetts NAMI chapter (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Ted Dunn, a former professor and football coach at Springfield College. Now in his 90’s, Dunn spoke openly about his own battle with depression.

Dunn is also author of the book, “Living with Depressive Illness and Finding Joy Again: A Holistic Approach.”

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Luckily, my mother never has attempted suicide, although she has mentioned it on occasion. Never take a threat of suicide lightly and seek help immediately, either for yourself, or a loved one. For more information go to http://www.nami.org

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Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.

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By Julie Beaulieu
Catholic Communications

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There’s a saying that no one knows what your life is like until he/she has walked a mile in your shoes. With that said, I decided to share my own personal journey through the darkness of memory loss, brain disease and mental illness with my viewers.
Currently, I am care giver to two adult family members, my mother and also my maternal grandmother. I was raised as an only child, growing up with a schizophrenic mother, and a father who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in the Vietnam War. I have an older half sister from my father’s first marriage who grew up in a different household. I’m also the only grandchild of Polish immigrants.
Although my mother sought treatment in her thirties for depression, she was misdiagnosed. At age 40, she suffered a psychotic break and was first hospitalized. I was in high school. Frightened and ashamed, I did my best to hide her illness from my friends.
While in college, I received a call from my mother’s job stating that she had been sent to the emergency room. What I recall most from that psychiatric hospitalization was my grandfather saying, “I hope I die before I see her go into the hospital again.” His wish came true. My grandfather passed away from heart disease in the fall of 1992. I share this point in order for my readers to realize the extreme pain and devastation these illnesses bring not only to an individual, but to the entire family.
In 2007, my mother had several hospitalizations which consumed six months of her life out of that year. I knew that something needed to be done to keep her on her medication while she was at home, so I sought a Community Roger’s Order and Medical Guardianship of her.
That same year, my grandmother, age 83, had a fall which required her to have hand surgery. This all took place during November while my mother had a long term hospitalization at Providence Behavioral Hospital.

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The orthopedic surgeon and I decided it would be best if my grandmother spent one night in the hospital. I called her that night in her hospital room to say good night and wish her well. The next morning, to my surprise, she was not able to return home. When I arrived at Holyoke Medical Center, she had gone into a complete state of psychosis and delirium. It took the doctors one week to diagnose her with vascular dementia and I was contacted by a social worker to find nursing home placement for her. All the while, my mother was still on the psychiatric unit at Providence. The best word to describe my emotion and state of mind during this time is bereft. My grandmother had been the rock of the family, my caregiver. The one person in the world whom I knew loved me unconditionally. Would she ever come out of this demented state? Would she be placed in a nursing home for the remainder of her life? Would she ever again be the grandmother who knew and loved me so well? I cried every day for over a month.
During my time as a reporter, I have covered some difficult, sad topics. I never have cried on a shoot, or during an interview, but I have cried while watching some of the video afterwards. I believe one of my most wonderful gifts as a reporter is my ability to empathize. Recently, while completing my story on Alzheimer’s, Dementia and Faith, which aired on June 28, 2014, I cried while watching Donald.
Donald, who is probably in his 80’s, is so grief stricken by his wife’s illness and loss of his life partner, that he confesses on camera, there are times when he wishes he were dead. I too, have suffered a tremendous loss similar to his. To watch the pieces of who your loved one used to be slowly disappear day after day is heart-wrenching and devastating. It’s a grieving process that seems to have no end. The only end is death, which only starts another grieving process.

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Donald’s wife is a resident of Mt. St. Vincent’s Continuing Care Facility. Due to her advanced stage of dementia, she believes she is in her early 20’s, prior to when she had met Donald. Because she doesn’t recall getting married, she doesn’t believe that Donald is her husband. Nearly 60 years of her life have been completely erased from her memory.
Charlie, also featured in my story, is age 85 and has an apartment in the independent living unit at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing in Springfield. Because this facility allows its residents to add on services of, “assisted living,” and also has a unit of, “skilled nursing,” Charlie was able to stay in the same building as his wife Dottie when she developed dementia. He felt that this living arrangement made a world of difference in their lives as the disease progressed and changes occurred.
“I could walk over and see her without ever needing to go outside,” said Charlie.
Charlie shared that watching her physical and mental decline was difficult, but that she did remain active and always kept her spirits up. Dottie was a skier, camper, golfer and avid tennis player. She also was head of merchandise and did all window dressing and displays for their family run business, Johnson’s bookstore. While living on the skilled nursing unit, Dottie’s creativity was able to shine through as she decorated for the different seasons and holidays. In 2006, Dottie passed away from physical complications. Her dementia never progressed into an advanced state.
Dementia effects people from all walks of life. Who it effects has little to do with race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, socioeconomic class nor level of education.

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Doreatha Allen, also in her mid-eighties, is an African American woman suffering from mid stage dementia, who is still able to remain living in her home, thanks to her daughter.
“One of the things we had discussed was that she wanted to remain in her home. So, I’m trying to honor that and am going to honor that as long as I can,” said Joy Danita Allen, Doreatha’s daughter and caregiver.
Joy Danita Allen is a Lady of St. Peter Claver at St. Michael’s Cathedral Parish. In July, Joy, along with the Ladies’ Auxilary, sponsored and organized the first Purple Mass and attended with her 84 year old mother, Doretha, also a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. The Purple Mass was in support and recognition of those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
For many, entering a skilled nursing facility (nursing home) is not a choice, but a necessity for the health and safety of an individual. Your loved one may say, “Don’t ever put me into a nursing home.” Keep in mind that people don’t put other people into nursing homes, circumstances do.

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For five years after her dementia diagnosis, my grandmother was able to remain in her apartment in elderly housing with the aid of outside services and an adult day health program. She fought tooth and nail each time a service was added, but eventually came around. She had three short term rehabilitation stays in local skilled nursing facilities. After each stay, my uncle and I would switch nights and sleep over her house with her until she was able to spend the night alone. I did her grocery shopping, picked up her medication, took her to all doctor appointments, came to her apartment when she didn’t let the aid in, or refused to go to her day program. I did it all for love.
None-the-less, the time came in August 2012 when my grandmother needed 24/7 care — care in which our family could not provide. The only person retired and available to care for my grandmother was my mother, who is schizophrenic and now had Alzheimer’s onset. Facing this fact was heartbreaking for the whole family. For the first two months, each time we visited Anna (my grandmother) she would stand up and say, “Did you come to take me home?”

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I, as Anna’s health care proxy, had to decide which facility she would now live in. I used the 90 days I had to make a decision. Her son and I felt it best to keep her at the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke. I then had these 90 days to clear out her apartment in which she had lived for over 25 years. It was 90 days until she was considered a resident and the insurance started paying for long term care.
For one month, I did nothing but water the plants and pick up the mail. Then, I began packing and sorting. Some close friends of mine would come and help me pack and load up the car with boxes. Often times, when they left and I was alone, I would cry. Moving day came in December of 2012. My uncle, father, and boyfriend all helped. Her whole life’s belongings had been in that little, two room apartment. If that wasn’t depressing enough, now it had to be downsized to only half a room.
Since that time, Anna had hemorrhaging and was diagnosed with stage 2 endometrial cancer. I had to decide on emergency surgery. I then had to decide on a treatment plan. This heavy burden caused me to tremble with fear and hide in bed, weeping, and wondering, “Did I do the right thing?” Soon I learned to trust my faith, because faith and fear can not exist together. Her life is not in my hands. It is in the hands of God. Only then did I feel this heavy burden lighten.
My grandmother, Anna, found a new home when the Geriatric Authority closed this past spring. She also survived surgery and was able to complete 5 rounds of radiation.

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Perhaps, the greatest blessing of all was the birth of my daughter in October 2013. Viola Anna has brought incredible joy and hope to my whole family. She has had a miraculous influence on both Anna and my mother Irene in regards to their dementia, for they are very present and active when she is around. What I’ve learned from this journey is that God truly does work in mysterious ways, and that prayers never go unanswered.

To read Julie’s story on the Purple Mass and Alzheimer’s for iobserve or watch her reporting for Real to Reel click on the links below.

http://www.iobserve.org/index.php?mact=News,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=3552&cntnt01returnid=66

Lone truck seen on road near couple's Fiat Farms in Kansas

By Greg & Donna Cambio
We have good friends that we’ll call Ted and Alice. They have been our friends for 40 years. Ted’s dad passed away recently. When we went to visit, our conversation turned to our long friendship. We recalled the times Ted and Alice supported us through our son’s illness and how we were with them when their oldest child became ill. We recalled the times we were there for each other when each of our parents passed away. And we recalled many fun times over the years too!
As we drove home from our visit, it dawned on us that we had been “journeying” with Ted and Alice all these 40 years! We have learned so much from their faith in action, as a couple. They help us grow and be the best couple we can be just by their love for us.
The more we thought about it, we realized that our lives are all about journeying with others. From the time we are born we journey to adulthood with our families, friends, schoolmates and others. So many people along the way have taught us, healed us, loved us. Some of the journeys have been difficult or painful. Each journey has an influence on the persons we are today, as well as the persons we will become.

Couple renews marriage vows during special Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London

God gave us the Church – Mass as public worship – to journey with others in our faith. Not only that, He promised to be there Himself whenever two or more are gathered in His name.
Whenever we share our thoughts and listen to each other; whenever we work with others toward a common goal; whenever we even just sit nearby in a hospital room — we are journeying with others. Each encounter is another step in the journey.
Questions to continue the Conversation:
Who has enriched our lives as a couple/priest? How do I feel about that?
Our journey with ______has been difficult for me. How do I feel sharing this with you?
Our journey with ______brings me joy. Why?
I shy away from journeying with _____. How do I feel about my answer?
I would like to journey with _____. How do I feel sharing this with you?
You are invited to discover ways to greater intimacy, unity and joy for your journey as a married couple on a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend! Call 1-800-710-WWME (9963) or go to http://www.wwmeMARI.org or email to info@wwmeMARI.org

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Supporters and opponents of federal contraceptive mandate gather in front of U.S. Supreme Court in Washington

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

The Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties cases rests on an important part of the American experience: the defense of religious freedom. The Green family owners of Hobby Lobby and the Hahn family owners of Conestoga Wood say their pro-life beliefs permeate their entire lives. The result: They run companies that are generous with life-giving benefits when it comes to health insurance. They also find abhorrent the idea that the government would make them finance through health insurance life-taking activities, such as drugs and procedures that can end human life.

Fighting for freedom of religious belief and practice is fundamental to being an American. The decision coming down days before the nation’s annual Fourth of July celebration, and during the bishops’ third Fortnight for Freedom, speaks loudly of the freedoms on which our nation was formed.

People can and do exercise religious freedom in their everyday and business lives. Some, such as Hobby Lobby, reflect their religious principles in how they run a family business and the insurance plans they provide for employees. Some companies refuse to open on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Some run a kosher kitchen and you can buy your pork elsewhere. In the United States, all have a right to let religious values influence their business decisions.

Woman walks toward Hobby Lobby store in Phoenix

Alas, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seems to have but one goal: promotion of birth control and abortion. HHS’s unrelenting drive to force its idea of women’s health care on everyone is breathtaking and heavy-handed. For those who will not comply with the HHS mandate to provide employees and their dependents contraceptives, sterilization and life-terminating drugs and devices, the fine is $100 a day per employee, that is, $36,500 a year per employee. Indeed, the government penalizes employers who can’t comply with the mandate more than those who offer no health care at all, whose payment is $2000 a year per employee. For HHS, apparently you’re better off with no employer health plan at all than with a plan sans contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs.

The Court decision reminds us that government must meet a high bar to infringe on religious freedom, and people of all creeds are watching. Because the HHS mandate still applies to religious ministries that serve people – think schools, food pantries, shelters, and other social service operations – the mandate threatens faith-based charities with steep fines for noncompliance. It can easily threaten the very ability of those ministries to serve the poor, the sick and vulnerable. Charities won’t last long paying government fines of $36,500 a year per employee. The recent decision refers to an “accommodation” proposed by the Obama Administration for non-profits which many, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, find intrusive into their religious freedom. These groups have filed suit because the government’s suggested accommodation would force religious non-profits to certify and legally authorize someone else to provide objectionable services in their name. The court did not decide these cases, which will likely face it in its new term, but has helpfully said that it is not the government’s job to second-guess how religious groups view their religious obligations.

The government also says it acknowledges religions by basically exempting houses of worship from the HHS mandate. That reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship, by affording protection to worship in the sanctuary but not to service to the needy. This violates both a longstanding understanding of religious freedom and the Catholic tradition. Helping people is part of the essence of the Catholic Church. The story of the Good Samaritan, who helped the stranger in need, tells us that serving your neighbor is integral to Christianity. When HHS decided what is and is not “religion” deserving religious freedom protection, it overstepped its bounds.

Pro-life demonstrators celebrate outside U.S. Supreme Court as decision in Hobby LObby case announced

Go to a University of Notre Dame football game and hear the announcements for Mass times for the students afterwards. Go to a Little Sisters of the Poor home for the elderly and watch the nuns tend to patients, comforted by a crucifix on the wall. There’s something different in the air. It stems from religious belief, and it’s Catholicism imbuing everyday life. Why would anyone want our society flattened out into one that does not welcome this as part of our American diversity?

Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh awarded President's Medallion from Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals

Sister Mary Ann Walsh is director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Northeast Community. She is an award-winning writer and has been published in several periodicals including The Washington Post, USA Today, America, and Editor & Publisher and is editor of three books: Pope John Paul II: A Light for the World, From John Paul II to Benedict XVI: An Inside Look at the End of an Era, the Beginning of a New One and the Future of the Church, and Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy.

Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service.

Acorns

By Steve and Kim Brown
Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Last week at Mass our priest told a beautiful story that we wanted to share with you, as well as we can remember it. He talked about a man on vacation who traveled through a desolate land on the way to his vacation destination. This particular area was barren of vegetation, rocky and not very pretty to look at. On his way through, he noticed an old man who was walking along holding on to a long poking stick and he had a backpack on his back. The old man was using the stick to poke holes in the ground and then he would remove from his backpack an acorn that he would plant in the ground. He did this over and over.

Curious, the vacationing man approached the old man to ask what he was doing. The old man explained that his wife and daughter had died long ago and now he filled his days with planting acorns in this barren land. He wanted to do something useful with his life and so he had planted hundreds of thousands of acorns over the years. Even if only a few of them grew into trees, he hoped it would make a difference someday.
Twenty five years passed and the man was once again traveling through the same desolate land on his way to his vacation destination. But when he looked around, instead of seeing a barren, rocky and ugly landscape, he was now surrounded by a beautiful forest that was streaming with birds and flowers and life. He remembered the old man from so many years before and marveled at what he was able to accomplish by his daily commitment in planting acorns. What a gift the old man had left behind.

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That story has stuck with us and we have found ourselves thinking about it and referring to it through out the week. We talked about how sometimes we may not see the fruits of our labors from day to day. But that is okay. All we have to do is keep on doing whatever we are doing to make a difference in whatever small way we can and someday we just may be surprised to see what a difference it makes. When we thought about it in terms of our marriage, we considered our daily communication to be like those little acorns that the old man was planting. Every day, if we commit to that small gift of communication for our spouse, over time it will make a difference. With your commitment, even on the days you may question whether or not it is making a difference, eventually your marriage with flourish with the same abundance that the old man’s forest did. Your marriage will be vibrantly filled with contagious love. We encourage you to approach your daily communication with the same persistence as the old man. When you look at your marriage years from now you will be amazed at what you see.

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And some questions for you to consider:
• Thinking about the old man’s daily commitment to planting acorns, do I share the same commitment to our daily communication? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do we communicate on a regular basis or only occasionally? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do I believe that daily communication is making a difference in our marriage? How do I feel about my answer?
• Do I think we share a love that is contagious to others? How do I feel about my answer?
• Where do I see us in twenty five years?
• Where is my favorite vacation destination?

Runners in All Saints race approach finish line at St. Peter's Square at Vatican

By Stacy Dibbern
Annual Catholic Appeal Manager

Last summer, my husband and I decided to make some healthier life choices. We start eating better, we joined a local gym, and on nice weekends, we go to our favorite place for a hike: Peaked Mountain. Over the months, these changes have had an impact: we’ve lost weight, we’re fitter, and I can get up Peaked a lot quicker than I could just a few months ago. Recently, I decided to push myself even further by adding running to my workout routine. While this has been difficult to do between the demands of a family, running the Annual Catholic Appeal, and taxiing a high-schooler around during sports season, I felt like I needed to freshen things up.

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I knew I needed some type of guidebook or roadmap, so I purchased the popular running app that would get me from the couch to running 3.2 miles, or 5 kilometers. After several weeks of this, a friend who is new to running herself mentioned a 5k race in July that she had registered for, and would I like to register and run this with her? Well, the husband and I are now registered, so I have an official goal to work towards! Having a goal keeps me focused on the long-term. Envisioning the race day, knowing that these weeks of preparation, these nights when I don’t really feel like running but I should, will make me strong and allow me to finish all 3.2 miles on that day in mid-July.

Pope Francis prays at Western Wall in Jerusalem

Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the gift of fortitude. The Holy Spirit helps us “feel the closeness of the Lord, sustains us and fortifies in the fatigues and trials of life, so that we won’t be led into the temptation of discouragement.” Fortitude gives us “the strength to do God’s will in spite of our own natural weakness and limitations” and with the gift of fortitude, “the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome weakness, so that we are able to respond to the love of the Lord.” God has given us the guidebook, the app, and the coach that we need to stick with the program, even when we’d rather quit. God wants us to get up off the couch and put in some “miles” in the three areas of spiritual development that we discussed last week: prayer, celebration, and imitation. These are the goals that matter.

We have other important goals that we’re trying to reach here in the Diocese: $3 million and 10,000 volunteer hours. So far, we have raised $2,437,186, and 100 volunteers have donated 2,500 hours of their time. If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities, we’re having a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral on June 11th from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our Annual Catholic Appeal supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at s.dibbern@diospringfield.org or call me at (413) 452.0670.

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Swiss Guards stand at closed door of Sistine Chapel as cardinals begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

By Stacy Dibbern
Annual Catholic Appeal Manager

With two college-age children returning home for the summer at the end of the spring semester, early May is a time of upheaval in my household: more cars than the driveway can contain, more laundry than I can keep up with, and more schedules than I can try to remember. Beyond that, it’s a time of reintroduction, of getting to know these young adults who have come back into the family fold with new life experiences under their belt. But soon enough, by coming together, talking and listening to one another, celebrating our time together, and carrying out the traditions and practices that are important to us, we regain that closeness that we once had and things start to feel “right” again.

For those of us who see ourselves as the shepherd who keeps our family pulled together, it’s difficult to imagine that in our spiritual lives, we are the absentee college student, sometimes just coming home for Easter and Christmas, staying just long enough to feel like our “laundry” is done. So how can we make things right for ourselves in our spiritual life?

Woman prays on Ash Wednesday at New York church

In a recent homily, Pope Francis said that to become closer to Jesus, we need to open three doors: prayer, celebration, and imitation. Through prayer, celebrating the sacraments, and imitating Jesus’ life through the works of mercy, we can come to truly know Jesus – not just know of him. A daily examination, according to Francis, could look like this:

“During the day, today, we can think about how the door leading to prayer is proceeding in our life: but prayer from the heart is not like that of a parrot! How is prayer of the heart? How is the Christian celebration in my life proceeding? And how is the imitation of Jesus in my life proceeding? How must I imitate him? Do you really not remember! The reason is because the Book of the Gospel is full of dust as it’s never opened! Take the Book of the Gospel, open it and you will discover how to imitate Jesus! Let’s think about how these three doors are positioned in our life and this will be of benefit to everybody.”

YOUNG WOMAN STUDIES BIBLE AT ILLINOIS PARISH

Sometimes the thought of trying to imitate Jesus through the works of mercy can seem too overwhelming and so we don’t move forward at all. That’s why we’ve incorporated volunteerism into this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal. The act of volunteering is so simple, yet so profound. As I’ve been mentioning over the past few months, the ACA provides financial support to local agencies that carry out the works of mercy through their programming. This year, we want to also help them build organizational sustainability by connecting them with volunteers like you.

On June 11th, the Diocese is hosting a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our ACA supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at s.dibbern@diospringfield.org or call me at (413) 452.0670.

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Palestinian youth hangs flag outside souvenir shop in Bethlehem
By Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Fifty years ago, in January 1964, soon-to-be Blessed Paul VI became a pilgrim, making an historic visit – the first by any pontiff since the earliest centuries of the Church – to Jerusalem and the Holy Land – or, as he put it, “This land where down through the centuries there resounded the voice of the prophets speaking in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” A little more than a year later, the epochal decree, Nostra Aetate, was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church condemned anti-Semitism and pledged to work with love and respect in dialogue with Jews. These were groundbreaking events, seminal moments that transformed the Church and its relation to the Jewish people.

Now, 50 years later, Pope Francis becomes a pilgrim as he journeys to Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

The relationship between Catholics and Jews has changed dramatically, thanks not only to the efforts of Paul VI, but also those of Saint John XXIII, Saint John Paul II and Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. John Paul and Benedict both visited Israel and worked hard to continue to forge better relations with the Jews.

File photo of Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew exchanging sign of peace during Mass in St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Who can forget Saint John Paul’s 1986 visit to the Synagogue of the Chief Rabbi of Rome, or the moving image of him praying before the Western Wall in 2000 before leaving the following prayer:

God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring Your name to the nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of Yours to suffer,
and asking Your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.

Pope Benedict’s 2009 pilgrimage to Israel, and his visits to synagogues in Rome, Cologne and New York, deepened the relationship we have established and nurtured during the past half-century. The work of these popes has further affirmed the principle that God’s covenant with the Jews was irrevocable, and that Judaism was not extrinsic but intrinsic to Christianity.

It is within this context, I believe, that Pope Francis’ trip must be viewed. He will travel as a pilgrim, whose actions, as much as his words, will demonstrate his desire to continue the path of dialogue and friendship that has been established.

As his friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka of Argentina, puts it, “I am convinced that this trip will usher in a new era in Jewish-Christian dialogue: the era of empathy.” What an uplifting thought, and so appropriate for this Holy Father, whose entire papacy has emphasized the need for the entire Church – including the pope – to be one with others.

My Jewish friends have told me how excited they are that Pope Francis will be visiting Israel and the Holy Land. As one rabbi friend here in New York tells me, “Don’t forget, Francis is our pope, too!” They see a man of deep faith, great love and honest openness. Their prayer has been that this visit will mark a continuation of the journey begun by Pope Paul VI and advanced by his successors to deepen the relationship and understanding between Christians and our elder brothers and sisters in faith. That is very much my prayer as well.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York delivers address during 2014 Catholic Men's Conference in Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.


Cardinal Timothy Dolan is Archbishop of New York and devoted to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

 

Pope Francis uses incense during Easter Mass at Vatican

In my last blog, I mentioned how I had attended the Elms College symposium The Footsteps of Francis earlier in April. During the symposium, Fr. Mark Stelzer mentioned one line that has stayed with me ever since: “Are we answering questions that no one is asking?” He posed this question as a way of looking at the relevancy of our teaching, ministry, and outreach. Aside from my work managing the Annual Catholic Appeal, I also volunteer as a catechist, so this question really changes how I look at CCD/RCIA, because it flips the traditional religious education model to one that is student-centric and question-driven. And if you look at the teaching style of our Pope, you can see why people respond to him: he’s answering the questions people are asking, and going out and meeting them where they are at that moment – physically and spiritually.

Pope Francis kisses a foot of a disabled person Our Lady of Providence Center in Rome

Consider one of his comments from last year: “At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. . . .A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.” Last week, my blog focused on the work that Saint Francis and Pope Francis have done to repair God’s house; we have seen that this repair work includes reaching out to our brothers and sisters of different denominations and faiths. Have you seen this cell phone video that Francis made this past January?

And now he recently spent Holy Thursday at the Don Gnocchi Center for elderly and disabled people, washing the feet of 12 people, including a woman and a Muslim. What a beautiful image for all of us to remember from Holy Week: that at the Lord’s Supper, all are invited; and that we are called to serve with love.
I’d like to invite you to come to an upcoming event to learn more about how you can become more involved as a volunteer in our local agencies and parishes. On June 11th, we’re having a Volunteer Fair at the Bishop Marshall Center at St. Michael’s Cathedral from 5-7 p.m. We will have on hand representatives from several of our ACA supported agencies with information about their programs as well as opportunities for folks to find out how and where they can volunteer. Light refreshments will be served. If you’re interested in learning more about this event, please email me at s.dibbern@diospringfield.org or call me at (413) 452.0670.

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